The US Presidential Election – the Show is Not Over Yet
13 May 2016
By Amir Taheri
Norman Muller is a white-collar worker in Illinois who is sure about at least
one thing: he has never voted and intends never to vote in his life. And, yet,
by a quirk of fate he is chosen by a super-computer as the only representative
of the American electorate in that year's presidential election which is held
according to a new scientific system.
In the new system, a computer works out all the wishes, hopes, fears,
prejudices and desires of the electorate and establishes the lowest common
denominator representing the point at which all those eligible to vote are in
agreement. It then finds one citizen who represents that lowest common
denominator, in this case the hapless Muller, ''hero'' of the master of
science-fiction Isaac Asimov's short story ''The Franchise'', and tasks him to
choose among the candidates.
Those who follow American presidential campaigns, however, know that things
are never as neat as Asimov imagined. This year's campaign is even less so.
For a long time, nominees were chosen by conclaves of political barons coming
in smoke-filled rooms in half a dozen big cities. Later, nominees were
produced by party machines that were in turn, controlled by big business,
organized labor and, yes, influence peddlers sailing close to the wind of law.
This year's campaign has revealed a dramatic weakening of the party machines
and the rise of ''insurgent'' groups within both the Republican and Democrat
parties that still handle the transfer of the ''franchise''. The process had
already started with the emergence of the Tea Party within the Republican camp
and the ''watermelon'' groups (green outside with ecological talk but red
inside with Marxist beliefs) on the Democrat side.
Outside the US, much of the interest in the current campaign is due to the
presence of Donald Trump, front-runner for the Republican nomination, and
Bernie Sanders who has broken the ''socialist'' taboo by using that label in
his quest for becoming the Democrats' nominee.
There is no doubt that Trump has added a shade of color to a dull campaign.
The more he plays the ordinary guy the more his audience thinks he is
I don't think Trump is anti-Semite, anti-Islam or even a xenophobe in general
any more than his European versions that also represent a tiny slice of
opinion. Only he is at his most convincing when he is just making it up as he
As for Sanders he makes much of his role as an anti-Israeli Jew while that
species is a dime a dozen even in Israel itself.
The Europeans have had a field day mocking Trump as a vulgar billionaire who
thinks everything, including the presidency, is up for sale. They forget that
Europe has already has its own versions of Trump, including Italy's Silvio
Berlusconi, serving as Prime Minister in four governments, and France's
Bernard Tapie who was a ''super minister'' under the Socialist Pierre
As for Sanders who has frightened the horses in the stable of the European
Right, people forget that the American ''socialist'' is still to the right of
such leaders of the European Left as Gerhard Schroeder, not to mention Jeremy
Despite unprecedented media hype much of it due to the mainstream media's
visceral dislike of Trump and, to a lesser extent, Hillary Clinton, the
exercise, known as ''the primaries'' has attracted relatively few Americans.
Latest estimates put the US population at around 330 million of which some 260
million are eligible to vote. So far, however, around 6.2 per cent of those
eligible have cast votes in the Republican and Democrat primaries. Because
around half of those eligible often do not vote in the general election, that
figure could be raised to around 13 per cent, still not a huge turnout.
Equally puzzling is the fact that the primaries did not tackle any of the big
problems, including the management of diversity that modern American democracy
has to face. On the Republican side, the focus has been on personal
vilification, sometimes dragging the wives of the candidates into the mud as
On the Democrat side, Sanders has promised ''good health care, good housing
and good jobs'' plus free education, a new version of apple pie and motherhood
consensus. For her part, Mrs. Clinton has pinned her hopes on convincing
voters that it is time for a woman in the White House, a laudable objective
but not much of a program.
Interestingly, the latest opinion polls show that a majority of American
voters would choose Ohio's Governor John Kasich over all other candidates,
Republican or Democrat. Trouble is that, apart from his own state of Ohio,
Kasich has not won a single state in his own party's primaries.
Almost a year ago in a column on the coming election I dismissed the common
belief that the final duel next November will be between Mrs. Clinton and Jeb
Bush, inviting readers to expect surprises. At the time neither Trump nor
Sanders registered on the radar. Today, the possibility of surprise (s) is
On the Democrat side, we cannot rule out the possibility of Ms. Clinton
hitting a bad patch formed by shady deals attributed to her on the road to
As for Republicans, the party's Star Chamber is caressing the magic hat out of
which it could produce a new rabbit in Cleveland; maybe in the shape of Paul
Ryan, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Trump's defeat in the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday, also increases the chances
of his principal rival Senator Ted Cruz. In fact, all American presidential
elections are open to surprises because small but significant events, or a
dash of shady shenanigans, could alter the results.
We now know that the ''changing'' of a few thousand votes in Chicago,
America's most politically corrupt metropolis at the time, and Houston, then a
Democrat stronghold, ensured the victory of the Democrat nominee John F.
Kennedy. Imagine if Nixon, and not Kennedy, had won.
It is possible that the US would not have staged a coup against the Diem gang
in Saigon and thus would not have stepped on the slippery slope that led to
involvement in the war in Indochina.
Imagine if the late Ayatollah Khomeini had released American hostages in 1980,
three months earlier. President Jimmy Carter, who had been consistently
topping the opinion polls, might have been re-elected. There would have been
no President Ronald Reagan and no ''Mr. Gorbachev! Pull down that Wall!''
Again, imagine if the billionaire Ross Perot, having made his fortune in Iran,
had not entered the race as an independent candidate in 1992 taking away votes
from Republicans, ensuring Bill Clinton's election. Dull George HW Bush would
have become president and colorful Monica Lewinski wouldn't have secured a
place in US history.
Finally, imagine if there had not been 312 more votes for George W Bush in
Florida. The Democrat Al Gore, who had won a majority of votes nationwide,
would have become president, launching a global program to save the
butterflies in the Andes rather than invading Afghanistan and Iraq.
Does Norman Muller vote in the end? Well, let's keep the answer secret so that
the exercise doesn't lose all its interest.
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated in Tehran,
London and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
(1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the Sunday Times. In
1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the International Press
Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a contributor to the
International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the
New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the French magazine
Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005,
he was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt. Taheri has published 11
books, some of which have been translated into 20 languages. He has been a
columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book "The Persian
Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and New York.